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Republicans outline their platforms for House District 41 and Senate District 23 during primary debate

Candidates speak at Monday’s republican primary debate (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)
Candidates speak at Monday’s republican primary debate (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

With a little over a month remaining until Indiana’s primary elections, Republican candidates for Senate District 23 and House District 41 made the case for their campaigns at a debate in Lafayette Monday night, sponsored by the Tippecanoe County Republican Party.

Seven candidates outlined their perspectives on a number of issues — including the recent passage of legislation removing requirements for permits to carry handguns, and Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in women’s sports. They also addressed whether they believed President Joe Biden had fairly won the 2020 election.

Across both districts, candidates largely said that for better - and for worse - Biden was president.

House candidate Richard Bagsby said the issue was a “double-edged sword.”

“I am one of those that believe that Joe Biden is the president,” he said. “Was it fair and was it legit? Who is to say.”

Senate candidate Paula Copenhaver, herself a county clerk, resisted saying Biden was president.

“If there is a possibility that there could be fraud, then why wouldn’t we investigate it so we would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that yes he is our president, or no he is not,” she said.

Others, like Senate candidate Bill Webster, said it was a question from which candidates should move on.

“In regards of whether you get caught up in that rabbit hole of whether he truly won or he didn’t, we need to look forward,” he said.

On the matter of abortion rights, candidates reiterated their strong anti-abortion stances, agreeing that a special session should be called in Indiana if Roe v. Wade is struck down to restrict access to abortion in Indiana. A majority of state Republicans have signed onto a letter calling on the Governor to call just such a special session.

Senate candidate Christian Beaver said he would like to see the state address support for children if abortion access is further restricted.

“What are we doing about these young women who are pregnant who have a lack of resources, lack of support? We as Republicans are often criticized for - what they say is ‘once the baby is born you don’t really care what happens to it do you?’ I really do care,” he said.

Paula Copenhaver said she has an alarm set for every day at noon to remind her to pray that Supreme Court justices will have “their hearts awakened to life being precious.”

“To abolish abortion would just be fabulous,” she said. “As far as taking care of them, it’s not the government's job to take care of us. It is the churches, and when I say the church it’s not just a building - it’s the believers, people, and community, to come alongside those who have needs.”

House candidates for District 41. Left to right: Richard Bagsby, Mark Genda, and Shane Weist.
House candidates for District 41. Left to right: Richard Bagsby, Mark Genda, and Shane Weist.

Candidates differed on how to address issues surrounding school curriculum, and whether it would be worth attempting an override of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s veto of a bill banning transgender girls from participating in girls school sports.

“It’s ridiculous to me that it’s even a discussion at the statehouse when we have much bigger issues we need to tackle,” Shane Weist, House candidate, said of the transgender athlete bill. “We could be spending time on education, infrastructure – this is not a bill that should even be on the table.”

Richard Bagsby said Republicans had their priorities mixed up on the issue.

“We focus more on whether a male and a female should be in the same sport rather than protecting our children from pornography,” he said.

Christian Beaver said he hadn’t heard from any educators who supported the legislature’s efforts around school curriculum - which opponents said would restrict classroom conversations.

“I have family who are educators in the various parts of the state – I understand what they were trying to do, but for the schools in these rural counties, like with House Bill 1134, it does more harm than it does good,” he said. “That’s what they are telling me, that’s what makes sense to me.”

Senate Candidate Christian Beaver (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)
Senate Candidate Christian Beaver (WBAA News/Ben Thorp)

Senate candidate Spencer Deery said there was a role for parents to have input into the school curriculum.

“It’s not a conservative principle to have the state government micromanaging and bossing around local education,” he said. “With that said, it’s important to remember public educators work for taxpayers. There is a role for the state government to guide and direct educators in making sure they are accomplishing the goals and focus on things that are most important for the long term objectives of the state, but it needs to be done in a way that is also respectful of the professionals that teachers are.”

With Indiana’s unemployment rate hitting record lows, candidates also discussed ways of attracting workers into open jobs - or finding ways to accommodate housing needs in communities struggling to provide low and middle-income housing.

“How can we research and pass on to business owners how can we develop a new plan for the new worker?” said House candidate Mark Genda. “We have to get them. All the 50-somethings – we stepped out and there is nobody filling that gap.”

Shane Weist said the issue of finding workers was one of the biggest concerns he heard from voters across the district.

“We need to get workforce affordable housing back so that workers can move into some of these smaller communities where the housing is affordable, where developers can afford to go to Frankfort, go to Lebanon, go to Darlington and these areas and do developments and build housing that workers at these companies can afford to live in,” he said. “I think that’ll help our issue with work force.”

In closing statements, the candidates in House District 41 underlined how much they appreciated getting to know both voters and other candidates.

But Senate candidates struck a different chord - already beginning the effort to differentiate themselves ahead of the state primary.

Spencer Deery said that on the issues, candidates were largely on the same page. He outlined ways in which his expertise set him apart.

“The country in many ways is drifting left, and Indiana could too if we don’t provide an alternative of a new generation of strong, effective, responsible conservative leadership,” he said. “I believe I’m the most qualified candidate and capable to do that.”

But Paula Copenhaver said that she was a much better candidate for the job.

“If I thought that one of my opponents would represent me and our district the way I want to be represented, I would gracefully bow out and get behind one of them,” she said.

The state’s primary election is on May 3.

You can view the full debate here.